It could be a disgruntled employee’s dream come true. You shoot your boss, tackle that annoying colleague and scream “Die, horror, die!” at every person who crosses you on the field.
Paintball, a combination of GI Joe and hide-and-seek, is emerging as a popular adventure sport in India. What started out as a recreational sport here a few years ago is turning professional with its own international Paintball championship.
The National Paintball League (NPL), an affiliate of The Millennium European Paintball Series and one of the organizations that promotes the sport in India, will launch India’s first NPL Indian International Open in February 2011. The tournament will have 80 teams from around 10 countries competing for the title.
War games: Paintball, which doesn’t require training, has gone from a backyard hobby to serious business.
The game is simple, an armed version of hide-and-seek. A team, with 5-30 players, guards its flag on one side of the field while trying to grab the other side’s flag. The field is peppered with bunkers, where players can take cover. A player is out when hit with a paintball—a gel capsule filled with bright colours. Each game ends after the time limit of 5-15 minute expires, or when a team’s flag is captured, or usually after the “death” or “surrender” of a team.
The professional version of the game is even simpler, explains Ulrich Sthar, president of the European Paintball Confederation and head referee for the Millennium Series. “Each team has to try and get into the opponent’s base and hit the buzzer to get points. After a certain number of points, they win the game.”
“The great thing about this game is that it doesn’t require any prior training, and is not time-consuming. Anyone from an eight-year-old to an 80-year-old can play,” says Kiran Soans, the 33-year-old chief executive officer of Mercureal Sports, which promotes the NPL.
What started in 2002 as an informal backyard session with friends for Soans has morphed into a far more serious business. “In 2006, we were conducting two-three team-building workshops a year. Today, we conduct practically one each day,” says Soans.
Not to mention the number of people who line up in malls, recreational areas and sports arenas across cities, to play for fun. For about Rs250, a participant gets to play a few games of paintball, complete with ammunition of gel pellets with bright paint, a gun, goggles, protective gear and a face mask.
The NPL, which was founded in 2008, has set up international paintball zones in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Shillong and plans to set up zones in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Pune by the end of the year.
Sthar quotes global industry estimates of approximately 15 million people playing paintball at least once a year. “This ranges from people who may indulge in a paintball session at a birthday party to professional players who train for competitions,” says Sthar.
“It’s a competitive game, but no one gets left out,” says 34-year-old Sean Saldanha, an entrepreneur from Chennai who is part of the local paintball league, the Paint Gun Muruguns. “It appeals to senses that have been lying dormant for years; you have to strategize. Of course, there’s also the sheer joy of being a child again. How often do you get to shoot people?” he laughs.
But it’s still going to be a while before the sport takes off in a serious way, as it has globally. “We (Indian consumers) tend to approach it as a form of entertainment, rather than as a serious sport. So an international league may be a little premature,” says 24-year-old Ruchyeta Bhatia, founder of The Paintball Club, which hosts events for companies and has a dedicated site at Lonavala, near Pune.